Pandemic hazard pay continues to be a hot topic in Seattle, particularly when it comes to essential workers in the food industry. After initially pushing back against the city’s new hazard pay bill for grocery workers employed by larger chains, PCC Community Markets has reached an agreement with UFCW 21 (a local union that represents grocery and retail workers) on a more wide-reaching wage boost.
Seattle’s hazard pay mandate — a $4 per hour increase — applies to those covered by the minimum wage law who work at supermarkets with more than 500 employees worldwide and at stores bigger than 10,000 square feet. Businesses impacted by the mandate include chains with national imprints, such as Costco, as well as a few larger local chains like PCC. Similar legislation passed in Burien, too, which has one PCC store.
But now the local market will give a $4 per hour extra pay to all of its nearly 1,500 union represented staff members at 15 locations throughout the Puget Sound region, retroactive to February 3. Also, PCC announced it will implement a new curbside pickup service in the future with union workers. And the deal provides quarantine pay for employees who get diagnosed with COVID-19 and have to stay home, as well as other safety provisions.
This agreement ends what’s been a contentious issue over the past couple of weeks. Not long after the Seattle City Council passed the hazard pay rule by a unanimous vote January 25, PCC’s CEO Suzy Monford released a letter contending that the new bill would unfairly hurt the co-op’s business, since it didn’t have the resources or profit margins of larger chains, and urged Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan to reject it (Durkan eventually signed the bill, despite the plea). Monford’s letter was met with immediate backlash from PCC workers and customers.
Two industry groups — the Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Food Industry Association — recently filed a lawsuit against Seattle, alleging that the mandate unconstitutionally inserted itself into collective-bargaining agreements and showed favoritism toward employees at larger chains, rather than help all grocery workers. But the fate of the lawsuit remains unclear. One Seattle attorney who provided legal counsel to the city when it was litigating the 2014 minimum wage law called it “a longshot.”
Meanwhile, several other cities up and down the West Coast have implemented their own hazard pay rules for grocery stores and are engaged in similar legal battles. But the new development with PCC seems to undercut the argument against the mandates. And the co-op’s about face isn’t unique. Trader Joe’s also recently decided to extend hazard pay to all its workers across the U.S. — with the important caveat that the grocery chain is now canceling mid-year raises.